III.2 Identity and Dis-establishment - Church state
III.2 Identity and Dis-establishment
Can “weak” establishment of the Anglican church - for example - be legitimately defended in contemporary multi-religious and multi-ethnic English society by reference to the specific history or identity of the English nation? Defenders of constitutional dis-establishment reject this idea pointing to the ‘exclusiveness’ (38) of the ‘hallowed myth about the Crown, our Nation and the Church’ (Valerie Pitt, PSI 36). In all traditional varieties of an established church, religion functioned as community cult. Political and religious community have been presented as co-extensive. ‘Consequently, one is born into “community cults” and coinciding membership in both is particularistic and exclusive’ (Casanova 1994:45f), a practice which is clearly at odds with any defensible notion of a multi-ethnic and -religious society. Christian individualist, “twice-born” salvation religion has originally been opposed to community cults by releasing ‘the individual from particularistic, ascriptive ties’ (Casanova 46).47 It has been ‘potentially conducive to the formation of universalistic religious communities through processes of ever wider fraternization (and sororization)’. Its adoption by Constantine as the community cult of the Roman Empire in the form of a compulsory, coercive, monopolistic, sacramental grace institution introduced an inherent tension between particularist and universalist tendencies, which has been characteristic for all established Christian churches from Constantine onwards. Both sectarian Protestantism (with its return to the primitive Christian church) and, to a lesser degree, Catholic Reformation (Vatican II) imply a conscious rejection of Constantine Christendom. The fairly direct conclusion of such a history is: liberate Christendom from all remnants of ceasaropapism48 and liberate the state from the ‘religion of the Priest’. Both requirements seem to converge straight forwardly in “non-establishment + fight against institutional pluralism”.49 The other, non-religious aspects of the identity of the English nation, too, have been highly particularistic and exclusionist (white, colonialist, sexist and narrowly nationalist, as English predominance and the lasting problems in developing a truly multi-national Britain show: no Black in the Union Jack).
Does fairness in a multi-religious and multi-ethnic society require to overcome historically rooted establishment, exclusionist identity and its symbolical presence? Bhiku Parekh gives a double answer to this question.
On the one hand: ‘Like all other societies Britain has a distinct history, traditions, way of life, and so forth, and hence a specific character that makes it the society it is and distinguishes it from others. Among other things it is profoundly shaped by Christianity, as is evident in its moral life, myths, political and moral discourse, literature, art and self-conception. Since Britain cannot shed its cultural skin, to deny the Christian component of its identity in the name of granting equal status to all its religions is unjust (because it denies the bulk of its citizens their history).’ (19) On the other hand ‘Britain has undergone marked demographic changes.. It now has a sizeable number of religious minorities with their own distinct histories and traditions, about which they feel as strongly as the rest of Britain’s citizens do about theirs. The minorities are an equal and integral part of British society, and deserve not only equal religious and other rights but also an official acknowledgement of their presence in both the symbols of the state and the dominant definition of national identity. The acknowledgement cannot be equal.. However they .. deserve some collective and public recognition by the state’ (19)
Parekh signalizes that it is as difficult as it is necessary to ‘reconcile the equally legitimate demands of Britain’s historical identity and the principle of equality’ (20):
‘The only way to reconcile these two demands is both to accept the privileged status of Christianity and to give public recognition to other religions. Christianity may therefore rightly remain the central part of British collective identity, provided that other religions receive adequate though not necessarily equal recognition in the institutions, rituals and ceremonies of the state’ (20).
I agree that the public and symbolic recognition of diverging traditions and identities involves some tricky balancing. I also agree that this public and symbolic recognition has to extend beyond civil society. Given the enormous historical importance of religions for state rituals and ceremonies, evenhandedness requires to include them as well. However, Parekh does not answer the question of why the symbolic recognition of Christianity and other organized religions without constitutional establishment is not enough? Symbolic recognition without constitutional establishment may achieve the same ends in better ways. Why some version of weak or plural constitutional establishment? Reference to British history cannot plausibly explain this because, as Parekh himself sees, Britain may - at the end of the 20th Century - decide to disestablish the Anglican church as it may decide to become a republic. Reference to history is not, in itself, a good normative argument in favor of establishment.50 Reference to identity only would help if all collective identities would need institutionalized legal privileges.51
Full cultural and symbolic equality among religions is an utopian ideal which is impossible to achieve and which is undesirable for prudential and moral reasons as well. This is the hard core of Parekh’s argument: the predominance of Christianity is an integral part of English history and national identity, and it would be unfair and very unwise to neglect this. A fairer and more evenhanded balance between these cultures and identities, however, is possible and morally required, particularly if one takes into account that huge social and cultural pressures are at work towards cultural assimilation anyway (see Zolberg 1997:150f), even in cases that organized ethnic and religious minorities try to resist such assimilation and even in cases that some radical state-policy in favor of cultural recognition and religious diversity would try to empower these minorities as much as possible. Policies of cultural recognition are much stronger if backed by policies of institutional pluralism. "Non-constitutional pluralism" combines the advantages of institutional pluralism and helps to avoid the nasty aspects of all forms of ‘establishment’ spelled out below.
III.3 Contested Effects of Establishment/Dis-establishment
Realism, rightly, reminds us that “ought implies can”. All practical evaluations involve contested statements about empirical effects of the different links between state and (organized) religions. Again, a full evaluation of these effects is way beyond this article. Instead, I try to clear the ground, so to speak, for such an evaluation by addressing unfounded fears of opponents of dis-establishment that it would lead to a decline of religious beliefs and practices or to a privatization of religions, and by pointing to weaknesses of “weak establishment”. In the main part of this section, I try to refute the core arguments of opponents of all forms of institutional pluralism.
Opponents of dis-establishment fear that it will lead to a decline of religious beliefs and practices or to a complete privatization of religion. The experience in most European countries shows, on the contrary, that sturdy and prolonged defense of “strong” establishment has contributed significantly to the decline of religious beliefs and practices and to privatization of religions as a consequence of belated dis-establishment. And the experience in the U.S. shows, contrary to Sylvia Rothschild’s assumption (PSI 58), that non-establishment can go hand in hand with an increasing public role of specific religions. Dis-establishment does also not lead to a serious destabilization of society or of the state.52
Most participants agree that "strong establishment" has negative empirical effects: it corrupts the church, it contributes to the decline of religious belief and practice, it is inherently conservative, it is incompatible with equal citizenship in multi-ethnic and -religious societies and it does not contribute to religious pluralism but tries to prevent it. "Weak establishment" also seems unable to address the important issue of serious inequalities among organized religions and their impact on politics. If the legal privileges of the Anglican church would no longer provide any real privileges, as Hasting holds (PSI 40), the whole question of further dis-establishment would be purely academic or strategic. Proponents of pluralization of establishments or of dis-establishment challenge the claims that the Anglican church has radically changed its character in teaching and practice, that it has become a modern, ecumenical, respectful, sensitive church, actively stimulating religious pluralism.53 Rosser-Owen, from a Muslim perspective, while favoring "weak establishment" (84),54 complains that the Anglican church did near to nothing to fight religious discrimination of Muslims in Britain55 and Deepak Naik, speaking from a Hindu perspective, points to serious inequalities of resources of minority religions.56 "Weak establishment" clearly has not contributed to their empowerment and these doubts are strengthened by a comparison of the institutionalization of Islam in England with its weak established church with the Netherlands which officially has removed the last legal privileges of churches in the constitutional reform of 1983.57 If these arguments are sound, we have to chose between the two options of institutional pluralism, on one hand, and "non-establishment + private pluralism" on the other.
Opponents of institutional pluralism have mobilized the whole battery of arguments against constitutional, legal, administrative, and political pluralism, well-known from the debates about (neo-)corporatism, “pillarization” and affirmative action.
(1) The state cannot ‘establish religion in the abstract when its people adhere to many religions’ (Pitt, PSI 39). Institutional pluralism thus implies some nasty problems of formal recognition and of categorization.
‘Equally, the other religions, now playing an active part in English life, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and so on should be entitled to equal treatment with Christianity. This could mean the right for a senior Imam or a representative Hindu priest to representation in the House of Lords and the right for State support to Catholic or Buddhist counselors in the armed forces or hospitals. How far should this be extended - to Moonies, to Spiritualists, to Scientologists? Isn’t it better to remove the privilege altogether?’ (Herrick, PSI 48).
Which denominations and religions should be, more or less formally, recognized constitutionally (as the proposal of multi-faithism in England seems to suggest), legally (as in Belgium) or administratively (as in all cases where central or local state administration has to deal with (organized) religions (as in the Netherlands))? Which criteria should be used in such recognition? Is such recognition not inherently unfair, because the state cannot give official voice and position to all sects and denominations? (Trade off between numbers and effectiveness, trust and cooperation). How high should the inevitable thresholds be? Categorization also may have the unintended but foreseeable effect to stimulate strategic use of religious identities.58
(2) Not only constitutional establishment of many religions, but also legal or administrative inclusion into “corporatist” forms of deliberation, decision making and implementation depend upon choices of particular (overarching) organizations and leaders as partners. Intentionally or not, it may initiate, and it inevitably influences processes of organization and leadership selection. Religious minorities, like others, are not internally homogeneous, monolithic blocks, and state recognition of some organizations and leaders instead of others can contribute to the continuation or the development of internally undemocratic relations and to the suppression of internal minorities (e.g. more liberal versus more conservative or even fundamentalist interpretations and practices of religion; suppression of women or homosexuals). Only Anne Phillips (24) has voiced this feminist criticism during the PSI conference. Many feminists also assume that feminism is incompatible with group rights (see note 31). Other feminists also clearly recognize ‘the perils of multicultural accommodation’ (Shachar 1998) and challenge traditionalism, unrepresentative organizations or leadership, and ‘male member interests parading as community interests’ (Reitman 1998:13). But they develop a more balanced and productive strategy: scrutinize internal group processes (15f.) from within and from the outside in order to make organizations and leaders more representative without sacrificing group rights and forms of collective autonomy for ethno-cultural and religious groups.
(3) Pluralist institutionalization may imply some inherently conservative tendencies, stabilizing the status quo ante against (rapid) change in the relative strength (numbers, geographical concentration) and importance of (organized) religions and, by this, widening the gap between formalized religious “establishment” and actual religious state of affairs of a country. This fact is well-known from Dutch pillarization and from the effects of neo-corporatism on unions. Some conservative bias seems inherent in pluralist institutionalization because religious minorities first have to organize and mobilize in order to pass thresholds for institutionalization. Once institutionalized (de facto or more or less “legally” recognized) this process does not stop. Administrations, however, have difficulties to recognize these shifts and to adapt their policies without serious time lags.
(4) Probably the most often heard argument against pluralist institutionalization points to its supposedly inherent divisive effects.
‘The secular humanist would prefer to see no church schools supported by the state. The inculcating of religious ideas should be the province of the home and the church hall. However, since there is no likelihood of the dismantling of church schools it seems only fair that Muslims should have their schools too. Nevertheless, secularists have some reluctance to see this, because of possible ethnic divisiveness. It might be better to offer generous tolerance of religious practices in state schools, such as acceptance of special clothing, food, and right to prayer, in order that ethnic minorities may both retain their cultural and religious identity and grow up to integrate into British society (as many parents want)’ (PSI, Herrick 50).
Before accepting this rock-bottom argument (“mischief of faction”) against all versions of institutional pluralism one should consider the following counter-arguments.
(i) The development of collective worship and religious instruction in English county schools since the Education Act (1944) shows some of the typical problems involved in such “generous tolerance”: (a) Competencies of the Agreed Syllabus Conference (ASC) and the Local Education Authority and their composition which does not reflect actual religious pluralism. (b) The Law and the agreed syllabi very often ‘speak of religious education, but we mean Christian education’ (Birmingham syllabus in 1962, see Nielsen 1986:25) which neatly parallels the presumed “official ethnic neutrality” of the state in general, of curricula in particular. (c) The development of more multi-religious syllabi (in 1975 in Birmingham and later in Hampshire and Bradford) caused fierce resistance by conservative Christians and, eventually, led to the new Education Reform Act in 1988 which explicitly stated that ‘collective worship shall be wholly or mainly of broadly Christian character’ and ‘any agreed syllabus shall reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian’. The Conservative government, in 1992, again stressed that ‘proper regard should continue to be paid to the nation’s Christian heritage and traditions in the context of both the religious education and collective worship provided in schools’.
(ii) It is quite obvious that the demand for separate religious instruction and for separate religious schools with a VE status
‘would substantially diminish if existing state provision offered and delivered ... schools with a genuine, active commitment to multi-cultural, anti-racist and non-discriminatory education, including facilities to meet needs for prayer, diet and dress requirement’ (Commission for Racial Equality, CRE 1990:20; see Martin 1978 in general).
(iii) Experiences with separate schools are not conclusive in this regard. The catholic bishop of Leeds, for example, states that
‘the experience of my own community (which has been a persecuted minority) is that having our own school within the state system helped us to move out of our initial isolation so as to become more confident and self-assured. The effect of the separate schools has been integration not divisiveness’ (The Times Educational Supplement, 4 Jan. 1991).59
Positive experiences are neglected and fear for divisive effects dominates the discussion on the side of secularists and socialists: the NSS (National Secular Society) warned against ‘segregation on the basis of race and color’ already in 1970, the association of LEA’s spoke of ‘sectarian threats’:
‘danger that claims are made in the name of religious rights and freedoms which mask sectarian beliefs and which cannot be in the wider interests of the Muslim community in the context of British society’.
In 1975, the British Secular Society foresaw ‘social disaster’.60 Instead of mobilizing such fears which may be backed by a generalized suspicion regarding the consequences of affirmative action policies (see Lind, Hollinger, Offe 1998) it seems advisable to refrain from generalized theoretical and empirical statements. The effects of separate lessons, schools, organizations cannot be judged independent of specific contexts, and institutional pluralism should not be compared with the myth of presumed neutrality or some ideal “model” of neutrality but with the actual "muddle" of majority predominance.61
(iv) Contrary to the presumed overall divisiveness of institutional pluralism, there are good arguments in favor of the thesis that granting separate institutions with fairly large autonomy in the field of religion and also of education is one of the most effective policies to prevent the development of separate institutions in politics and the presumed divisive effects on civil and political society, citizenship etc.62 The other policy to prevent religiously motivated or religiously dressed political fundamentalism, of course, is attempting to prevent the formation of ethno-religious underclasses. Defenders of institutional pluralism need not, and should not, defend an unconditional or undifferentiated institutional separation across the board, i.e. in all societal fields.63 Religious institutional pluralism actually may help to prevent educational or political separation along religious lines and the development of religious political fundamentalism.
Modood seems to prefer "plural establishment" over both “weak” establishment and dis-establishment suggesting that dis-establishment tends to increase religious fundamentalism. He notes that the U.S. and India, the two examples of non-establishment mentioned by Herrick, ‘currently seem to be witnessing a rise in religious chauvinism and fundamentalism which threatens the common moral framework’(PSI 9) that most contributors to the debate wish to defend. Sylvia Rothschild assumes that ‘privatized religion, religion denied a public role, is more likely to become embittered, intolerant and fundamentalist’ (10): ‘the only time that religion takes on extreme and fundamentalist form is when it is not tempered by public activity’ (Rothschild 58, see also Parekh 21, Rosser Owen).64
(5) All varieties to institutionalize pluralism - particularly (neo-) corporatism, associative democracy and group-rights and group-representation for women, ethnic and national minorities - have been charged to be incompatible with liberal democracy by liberals, republicans and other defenders of unitarian democracy although defenders of democratic pluralism have always explicitly stated that different forms of group-representation are not designed to replace but to supplement representative political democracy.65 The problem is clearly recognized by Modood:
‘An alternative would be to recognize that in the absence of being able to deliver neutrality, institutions should be designed to ensure that those who are marginalised by the dominant ethos are given some special platform or access to influence so that their voices are nevertheless heard.. Yet this alternative, especially where it takes the form of establishment as opposed to a constraint on an electoral process (a device, for example, that reserved certain seats for women or a minority in a decision-making forum) is open to the charge of being undemocratic. Even a reformed establishment, say, a Council of Religions, would be a form of corporatist representation rather than a redesigning of electoral structures. One would have to take a view of how damaging it would be for an institution with such little power to remain independent of the franchise. There are certainly advantages in allowing organized religion corporatist influence rather than encouraging it, or obliging it, to become an electoral player (s.c. a political party -VB)’ (14). ‘the radical secularist’s concern with democratic purity may be counter-productive’.
As long as the various designs of institutional pluralism are not criticized in detail in order to show why, and how, they conflict with principles of democracy - whatever their defenders may think and say - these general accusations remain weak and may be bracketed here for reasons of space.
My analysis has shown the bewildering normative and empirical complexity of the relationship between state and (organized) religions, and also the complexity of all practical evaluations of these patterns. Compared with the simplicity and elegance of liberal “complete separation” good political theory forbids to propagate one best or optimal institutional model, independent from historical context and existing institutional arrangements. Still, I have tried to show that some general good practical arguments can be mobilized against “non-establishment + private pluralism”. The corresponding myths of “complete separation” and “strict religious neutrality” may do no harm in the ideal worlds of moral theory. In the real world, they serve to mask actual non-neutrality and predominance of religious majorities in state, political and civil society. Even non-establishment did not fall from heaven, and the degree of actual, relational neutrality of state and political society, the actual freedoms of religious belief and practices depend upon the voices, the organizations and the leaders of the formerly excluded religious minorities, upon mobilization of their resources, their struggles and, eventually, on shifts in the balance of power. Political philosophy should not be allowed to continue its “benign” neglect of basic historical and sociological insights. Its unholy alliance with ideology and practice of presumed universality in the service of majorities should be brought to an end.
All models of democratic institutional pluralism recognize serious inequalities among religions in the actual world and the importance of mobilization of their internal resources (like numbers, organization, leadership, ideology). They add important external resources (like external subsidies, formal or official recognition, institutional representation, networks, political legitimacy) which strengthen the conflict-capability of religious minorities and work against the continuous pressure towards enforced assimilation by majorities, political elites and bureaucratic incorporation policies. Recognition and institutional representation of minority religions may also serve to prevent both highly conflict-prone fundamentalist “otherness” as well as enforced loss of legitimate and highly valued plurality, diversity and “otherness”. Institutional pluralism gives minority religions more chances to challenge the predominant culture(s) and religion(s) and, at the same time, it gives democratic government more chances to mould religious organizations so that they actually learn to accept the principles and practices of liberal democracy.66 The moral reasons for cultural pluralism and religious diversity and the sociological reasons for institutional pluralism seem to reinforce each other (Bader 1998a).
My rough comparison of the different versions of institutional pluralism has shown, that “weak establishment” is the least attractive model. It may still be defended for highly specific pragmatic and strategic reasons.67 “Constitutional pluralism” and “non-constitutional pluralism”, the two remaining models of institutional pluralism, express relational neutrality more clearly than models which fight all forms of institutional pluralism in favor of either ‘private’ or ‘social pluralism’. Compared with “constitutional pluralism”, however, “non-constitutional pluralism” is preferable, in my view, for the following general reasons. (i) As a non-establishment option, it better expresses relational neutrality, the aim that under conditions of wide religious and secular diversity, state and political society should be as neutral as possible with regard to the existing religious and secular beliefs and practices. It also better expresses the crucial difference between, on the one hand, non-liberal and non-democratic forms of corporatism and religious pluralism ("strong establishment", its remnants in "weak establishment"; Millet-systems) and, on the other hand, modern forms of democratic pluralism compatible with principles and practices of democratic and social constitutionalism. (ii) As non-constitutional institutional pluralism, it also cannot avoid some of the nasty problems of institutional representation but it can de-emphasize them. The strategy to newly constitutionalize religious pluralism would inevitably focus, politicize, dramatize and freeze the contested issues: which groups, organizations, leaders should be represented in which fields, issues and decisions? Non-constitutional religious pluralism allows much more flexible, context-, field-, issue-specific and reversible answers on different levels of governance because it does not require constitutional fixation.68 The arrangements and practices of institutional representation can, if necessary, be adapted and changed more easily, whereas revisions of constitutions need qualified majorities, much time etc. (iii) Non-establishment together with an explicit recognition of the principles of democratic, social constitutionalism, make it easier to counter the challenges against institutional pluralism by liberals and (neo-) republicans on one hand; on the other hand, they have important consequences for more detailed institutional designs in the two other recent approaches in political theory who seem better suited to combine religious pluralism with institutional pluralism, to wit liberal nationalism and associative democracy.
I belief that my - cautiously general - plea for non-constitutional religious pluralism fits best into a general model of associative democracy, as developed by Paul Hirst, by Joshua Cohen and J. Rogers and others, but to demonstrate this would be another story. My intent to counter the preferred model of standard theory with a general model of "non-constitutional pluralism" has its price. This model is institutionally underdetermined and may also be attacked for some lack of institutional concreteness. Which organized religions should be recognized and represented in which fields? on which issues? in which councils? with which powers? and so forth. Though much could be said about these questions also in more general terms, it is obvious that such a discussion could never lead to an institutional blue-print applicable to all countries in all situations.69 Although much can be learned from comparison and international theoretical debate, the development of institutional designs of religious associative democracy has to take all specificities of contexts into account. My article hopefully stimulates such research.
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